The Negative Depiction of Women before and during the Middle Ages
My research and its purpose is to observe the religious aspect of the Renaissance Period with the Christian Bible. It influenced the society of the Renaissance Period. There is a gender differentiation distinguished in the Renaissance Period and its society because of the Christian bible. My standpoint is that this differentiation was created due to the books within the Christian Bible. Within this differentiation, women are portrayed in a darker manner, and different than men. Minimal representation occurs of women in the Renaissance Period. When there is representation of women, it displays inequality among the genders. A negative depiction is shown on women in the Renaissance society and it is present in modern times. This depiction occurs regardless, whether it be derived from the great fall of all mankind and its occurrence being blamed on women, or the roles and social status of women in the Christian Bible and Renaissance period’s society. There is a poor, inferior, and imperfect misrepresentation in place for women. This topic is important because men and women in modern times are expected to fit within these original representations or models of Adam and Eve. Perhaps one does not fit into these fixed perceptions then their representations are excluded or made for entertainment. For example, “The ultimate undecidability of the roaring girl herself is what gives the play its power to entertain”. (Paul, 538). I will validate my research with the work of various scholars who evaluated women’s place within the Renaissance Period and where this idea generated from. The purpose is to display the negative representation of woman in the Renaissance society with a religious aspect.
It is essential to view the purpose and creation of the Renaissance period because it has high significance. The Renaissance derives from the Roman and Greek Empires. The collapsing of the Roman Empire resulted in the “Dark Ages”, after the “Dark Ages” the Italians sought to rebuild their society and culture; this is where the Renaissance period begins. Inequality and negative portrayals of women were evident in the Renaissance society and culture, continuously. Whether it be their exclusion in plays, art, or music, (Which is what the Renaissance period is significant for) or their dependent social status entirely upon their husbands. Women were not able to participate in this boom of art and literature in the Renaissance period. This shows inequality.
Furthermore, men held all the important roles. They were heads of households, politicians, nobles, and craftsmen. Women held modest roles, that is only if she had any independence, like nuns. Regardless, she did not hold her own social status. “The institution of marriage profoundly affects woman’s status; authority, responsibility, property, and dignity are rooted in the husband” (Maclean, 80). The cultural psychology of the Renaissance was to focus on the rebirth of society. For the sake of the Renaissance, art and literature is foundered on Roman and Greek Christianity it’s certain to find the same inequalities of gender appear.
Renaissance work was modeled after the religion in Rome and Greece, those empires held similar perceptions from the Christian Bible. The fears of the Renaissance society, like modern day, are demons, witches, witchcraft, Satan, and any other wicked disturbances to their rejuvenating or religiously stable society.
In the Renaissance, and the “Book of Genesis” within the Holy Bible, the male is powerful and superior. The woman is a sidekick and is virtually powerless. She only has power within intercourse and spirituality. God gave the man authority over all the animals. “And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof” (King James Version, Genesis 2:19). The man had authority over every animal including Eve. She was created to benefit him.
I studied closely the “Book of Genesis”. It is one of the oldest written scripts, and it displays gender inequalities. From the very creation of humans, there is an inequality present. Men, and women were held to distinct roles and significant for their execution of these roles. In the Bible, the man was made first, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (King James Version, Genesis 1:27). Evidently, the man holds superiority over the woman. Each time within this excerpt of the Bible, the word “male” or “man” is listed first. It is a symbol of leadership. Even God himself is represented as a man by being called a him. God has the power to create, destroy, punish, lead, or reward, and the man was created in that same image. Thereafter, is a woman made in a man’s image. There is an existing display of hierarchy, or patriarchy present. I argue that equality among men and women is not present within the “Book of Genesis” and neither does it exist in other books within the Christian Bible.
The first man, Adam in the “Book of Genesis” was created alone as if he would be fine as is. Later, he is accompanied by a woman, or in God’s words, “a helper”. “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him” (King James Version, Genesis 2:18). It is displayed when she was created, she was only created for one purpose, to cure the loneliness of Adam. However, some may argue that there is equality because she is the only being suitable enough to cure a man’s loneliness. Eve, did not have say so in her society. Eve, and the woman’s role in life that followed her, have not changed immensely, as so in the Renaissance Era and its work. The Renaissance woman, as Eve was, is depicted as a submissive, inferior, sexual, non-political, spiritual, and a domestic being. The woman has constantly been valued or significant through these roles or characteristics. She has the purpose of a wife, home-keeper, child-bearer, or sexual implementation. She does not have a lead role and it is insincere to box the woman into these characteristics and only value her for them specifically. It is unequal to do so. However, these perceptions do exist.
These viewings or standpoints can be observed from the art and literature in the society of the Renaissance. The question of why the woman is excluded arises. When she is present she is the routine model, which is obedient to the man. This idea is that women are inferior and hold a negative presentation that derived from the “Book of Genesis” or the Christian Bible. There are identical perceptions of the male and female displayed within the Renaissance. I argue that the foundation of negative perceptions of women derive from the Bible (Book of Genesis specifically).
There is a moment the woman thrives in her power or utilizes it in the “Book of Genesis”. However, from this moment there is a negative outcome. It seems she uses her seductive, sexual, or domestic power to lure Adam to the unfortunate destruction of all mankind. This occurrence is largely significant because it is the sole moment Eve uses the only power she has ever contained. The results were horrific. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” (King James Version, Genesis 3:6). She made both her and Adam commit this transgression together, she was created to accompany Adam alone and that occurred although she deceived him. In the reason of the curse, versus later, demoted women throughout the Christian Bible and societies following, including the Renaissance. The Holy Bible laid the foundation for the negative representation of women in any religion, or period, from then on, including the Renaissance. Verses were written in the bible demanding the woman to follow the man’s lead. It was here on, it supposes the woman is not suitable for power. Eve, was immediately blamed for the pain humans would then on endure. Women never received a chance for redemption after Eve’s mistake. The fall of mankind only made matters worse for women in hopes for equality. Reason being that, women were already perceived as unequal from their very creation. Some Renaissance text displays the powerless roles of the women have within their society. They do not have political positions. Women did not own any shops, schools, homes or churches. This returns to the statement that women are not appropriate for lead roles. They are not artists, musicians, and writers for the Renaissance Period. The Renaissance period was for men because they were the artists, musicians, and writers. They made the political decisions that impacted the Renaissance Era’s society. The Renaissance changed nothing for women.
The context and characters in “The Roaring Girl”, a play written during the Renaissance Period by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker, displays women in a different light. “From the perspective of the (mostly) male, aristocratic status quo, she challenges social identity as the result of its own anxious contradictions” (Paul, 539). This happens through Moll Cutpurse, she disturbs what records have shown within the Christian Bible or of women mentioned in Renaissance Literature. Moll is not submissive to her husband or any other man. “her shadow extends even to the most meekly clothed woman, giving the lie to the idea that only woman can be truly and properly submissive” (Paul, 537). In fact, she is not married, does not desire to be, and as a woman, it is required that she be married. “I have no humour to marry: I love to lie a’ both sides a’ th’ bed myself; and again a’ th’ other side, a wife, you know, ought to be obedient, but I fear me I am too headstrong to obey, therefore I’ll ne’er go about it” (Middleton, Dekker, 43). She rules over men because she is free and makes her own decisions. “A wife dominating a poor husband, is quoted by Joannes Margines as an example of oligarchic society, and also condemned as unnatural.” (Maclean, 58). A woman is valued through her submission to her husband. “For a wife must not only be faithful, she must be “judged to be faithful by her husband, by those near her, by everyone” (Tuana, 85). Or perhaps, through her power of keeping him grounded. From reading these texts, it’s shown, a woman ought to be tamed or a help to man. Moll is not being tamed or domestic. She is confusing or antagonizing to this interpretation of women displayed within the Bible and society. Furthermore, she even debates women in the Renaissance culture. “This wench we speak of strays so from her kind Nature repents she made her”. (Middleton, Dekker, 20).
She rejects the typical or traditional perceptions of women, not only in the Renaissance Period but in modern day. However, she is valued for the characteristics that would otherwise be known as downfalls or faults of a woman. A woman is not to behave in the manner of Moll Cutpurse. She is free, uncontrollable, and unpredictable. She is publicly stealing and fighting. She is a cross-dresser and is entertaining because she is not what a woman is expected to be. Moll is full of masculine qualities and that was rare in the Renaissance civilization. She contains the qualities shown to be valued in men. Moll’s appearance in “The Roaring Girl” debates the interpretation of that in the “Book of Genesis” and Renaissance society. The play was written during the Renaissance when women would not behave that way and that is why the play is significant. It simply displays what a woman should and should not be.
Some challenge the argument of this essay. The idea of this challenge is that male and female are equal or at least originally created in that manner. However, this mentality could only come about until the fall of mankind. The woman was created to complete man, they were as equal it would ever be upon creation. That is until Eve convinced Adam to disobey God along with her. From that occurrence women are viewed as tempters, or as something that needs to be led or tamed. Reason being that, women are not expected to make well decisions when in charge. She then became inferior to men. “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (King James Version, Genesis 3:16). The representation of women was then insincere.
There is a mainstream perception of the Bible (Book of Genesis) and the literature of the Renaissance. The interpretation that is most dominant, is that women were inferior after the great curse that followed the fall of mankind. There are challenges to this interpretation that women are not equal to men. “In what ways is she the equal of a man, in what ways is she superior and for what reasons?” (Maclean, 7). Some argue that women and men are equal beings because she was created from Adam and she is supposed to complete him. The mentality is that male and female characteristics are both equally essential and valued. They do not counteract one another instead they give what the other is lacking. I disagree with these challenges that women are equal to men. Reason being that, the continuous battle and perception shown about women is not equal. She may never receive the proper representation or chance of equality. These insights of women have been fixed for too many centuries. Instead, women are searching for equality in past and present societies. However, my stance is that women have not been equal in their entirety.
Holy Bible. King James Version, 1st ed., 1611
Maclean, Ian. The Renaissance Notion of Woman. 1st ed., Cambridge University Press, 1982.
Tuana, Nancy. The Less Noble Sex: Scientific, Religious, and Philosophical Conceptions of Woman’s Nature. 1st ed., Indiana University Press, 1993.
Middleton, Thomas and Dekker, Thomas. The Roaring Girl. 1st ed., 1611.
Paul, Ryan. “The Power of Ignorance and The Roaring Girl”. English Literary Renaissance Inc., 2013, pp. 535-540.